HOUSTON - The space shuttle Endeavoursuccessfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) Friday, mergingtwo excited astronaut crews hundreds of miles above the South Pacific Ocean.
Theshuttle's STS-118 astronaut crew arrived at the orbital laboratory at 1:02 p.m.EDT (1702 GMT), after the station's three-man Expedition 15 crew photographedEndeavour's heat-resistant underbelly with digital cameras. Hatches openedbetween the two spacecraft just after 4:04 p.m. EDT (2004 GMT).
"Welcomeaboard," said Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin as Endeavour'screw hooked up to the space station.
The dockingmarked the orbital arrival for teacher-astronautBarbara Morgan, who helped prime Endeavour's docking ring for connectionwith the ISS. Morgan's flight comes 22 years after she was first selected asNASA's backup Teacher in Space in 1985.
Commandedby veteran shuttle flyer Scott Kelly, Endeavour's seven-astronaut crew ishauling about 5,000 (2,267 kilograms) of fresh cargo to the ISS, as well as anexternal spare parts platform and new addition to the space station'sstarboard-side truss.
Endeavour'sFriday ISS arrival came after a two-day cruise that began with a Wednesdaylaunch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Kelly took the100-ton orbiter's helm, guiding it within nine miles (14 kilometers) of thespace station by firing a correctional burn of propellant.
"We'rewaitin' for ya," ISScrewmember Clay Anderson radioed to Kelly shortly after the maneuver.
WhenEndeavour arrived 625 feet (191 meters) below the orbital laboratory, Kellyfired small thrusters on the spacecraft, rotating the shuttle in place toexpose its black underbelly to the ISS crew. Midway through the zero-gravity somersault, thestation's Expedition 15 astronauts snapped photographs of the shuttle'sheat-resistant tiles for relay down to Earth.
After theorbital acrobatics, Kelly swung Endeavour up to the forward part of the spacestation to dock in front of its U.S. Destiny laboratory.
Not longafter the two astronaut crews meet, however, astronauts began preparing for atleast seven busy work days in space--but could tack on three days to the mission.
Thepossible extension hinges on tonight's 5:51 p.m. EDT (2151 GMT) test of the Station-to-ShuttlePower Transfer System (SSPTS). The new device is designed to allowEndeavour to draw on the space station's solar power grid and conserve its fuelcell resources. Mission managers here at Johnson Space Center (JSC) will decideSunday whether or not to extend the mission.
Despite thepotential for more time in space, however, shuttle astronauts Tracy Caldwelland Rick Mastracchiowasted no time preparing the station's new Starboard 5 (S5) spacer truss fordelivery. The two will hand off the 4,000-pound (1,814-kilogram) hunk of spacestation, affectionately known as "Stubby," to the ISS' robotic armlater today.
"TheS5 truss is just one of many things that need to be done," Morgan said ina NASA interview. "We hit the ground, or we hit the space, running, and wedon't stop until we land."
Once thetruss is in position, STS-118 mission specialist Dave Williams and Mastracchio will beprimed for theirfirst spacewalk tomorrow. The busy rush of post-docking isn't a newexperience for some of the STS-118 astronauts.
Two membersof Endeavour's crew, Mastracchioand pilot Charlie Hobaugh,are making a return trip to the ISS. Hobaugh helped deliver the station's U.S. Quest airlockduring NASA's STS-104 mission in 2001, one year after Mastracchio and his STS-106 crewmatesprimed the orbital laboratory for its first astronaut crew.
"WhenI was onboard the space station it was only three modules last time. Nobody wasliving there and it was nice and clean, so I expect it to be just as clean aswhen I left it," Mastracchiosaid jokingly in a preflight interview.
- VIDEO: Teaching the Future: Teacher-Astronaut Barbara Morgan
- VIDEO: Endeavour's STS-118 Mission Profile
- Complete Space Shuttle Mission Coverage
Get the Space.com Newsletter
Breaking space news, the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!
Dave Mosher is currently a public relations executive at AST SpaceMobile, which aims to bring mobile broadband internet access to the half of humanity that currently lacks it. Before joining AST SpaceMobile, he was a senior correspondent at Insider and the online director at Popular Science. He has written for several news outlets in addition to Live Science and Space.com, including: Wired.com, National Geographic News, Scientific American, Simons Foundation and Discover Magazine.